The Government should oversee the supply of illegal drugs which would put crime lords out of business and prevent deaths from contaminated products.
It should also tax their sale to aid treatment programmes for addicts.
The unusual approach to the escalating drugs problem was advocated by two experts, one a former British chief constable.
Representatives from the health services and gardaí heard ex-senior policeman Tom Lloyd say the Government needed to grab control from drug cartels as drug-use was not going to go away, no matter what measures law enforcement agencies take to combat it.
Mr Lloyd told a Co Cork conference that governments had failed to tackle the worldwide supply of drugs which had increased in the last 40 years to an estimated $500bn yearly.
He said if the Government took control it could manage drug use in a safer way. He also proposed a tax could be levied which “could be used to treat problematic users”.
The day-long conference in Charleville was organised by the Southern and Mid-Western drugs and alcohol forum and the HSE.
It also heard from other international experts, including Dr João Goulão who is head of Portugal’s drug policy reform movement.
The former GP was part of an expert panel in his country which persuaded its government to decriminalise personal drug use and put more resources into treatment and other supports for addicts.
Dr Goulão said, prior to that happening, there were very high rates of fatal overdoses and HIV among intravenous users. He said “imprisonment of users was counterproductive” and now drug addicts are considered as “sick people in need of health care”.
He said Portuguese police were initially against decriminalisation, but were now in favour of it and referred addicts to the health authorities.
Last year, among 8,843 users identified by the authorities, 2,747 were given various supports while, among the 801 identified as serious addicts, 742 accepted health treatments.
The conference, entitled ‘New Approach to Drug Policy to Promote Health and Reduce Crime,’ also heard from Amanda Fielding, a leading light in ground-breaking psychedelic research.
A global drugs policy adviser currently working with the Jamaican government’s new decriminalisation policy, she totally agreed with Mr Lloyd that governments should take control of the drugs market.
“Decriminalisation (of drug addicts) should be a first step because it’s a health issue. Government regulation should be the second step. Alcohol and tobacco are accepted and taxed, yet they are far more dangerous that psychedelic drugs,” she said.
David Stanton, chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, said at this point in time he wasn’t in favour of the Government overseeing the distribution of illegal drugs. However, he did say he would like to see less criminalisation of drug addicts and more medical intervention to assist them.
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